If, as the Chinese proverb says, women hold up half the sky, then brace yourself—the sky is falling.
In Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (Public Affairs), journalist Mara Hvistendahl sounds the Henny Penny alarm: Population control methods used for decades in China, India, South Korea, and other countries have skewed sex ratios to biologically impossible levels. She first noticed the problem while visiting a Chinese kindergarten class in 2000: "In the sea of tiny smiles that greeted us, boys outnumbered girls." Her teacher explained the disparity was the result of women getting prenatal scans and aborting female fetuses. This compelled Hvistendahl to investigate the societal implications of a world with tens of millions more men than women.
Most cultures have tended to favor boys over girls. Boys carry the family name, cost less to marry off, and have better access to education than girls. It's no surprise then that when South Korea and China launched population control efforts in the 1960s, many couples aborted or abandoned their girls. Ultrasounds and abortion have claimed over 160 million unborn girls in Asia alone—the equivalent of the entire current U.S. female population being wiped out.
Yet cultural preferences and China's one-child policy don't explain why girls have also gone missing from Albania and Azerbaijan, and why sex ratio imbalance is now appearing in Europe. The global problem demanded a global theory, and Hvistendahl's is this: Sex selection has arisen out of a drive to control population size, using technology (primarily ultrasound) and abortion as handmaids. And Hvistendahl charges that it's powerful Western institutions—think General ...